MANILA, Philippines - “This is a role I’ve wanted to do for the longest time,” says Pinky Amador of her latest role in Atlantis Productions’ new musical “Piaf.”
Audiences will see Pinky stepping into the shoes of Edith Gassion, known to the world as Edith Piaf, the French singer who belted out such melodies as “La Vie en Rose” (the song always used to evoke Paris), “Hymne à l'amour,” “Non, je ne regrette rien,” and “Padam… Padam…”
Helming the production is director Bobby Garcia. The musical is a re-worked version of Pam Gem’s critically-acclaimed musical play “Piaf.”
Listen to Edith Piaf sing "La Vie en Rose" here:
Piaf, fondly called La Môme Piaf or Little Sparrow by her admirers and friends, led a tumultuous life that came to define the “suffering artist.”
She came from extreme poverty as a street urchin wandering Paris until she was discovered at 19. Her distinct voice and singing style — in which she famously rolled her r’s — catapulted her into national and global stardom. At one point, she was the highest paid singer in the world.
Her singing career spanned 3 decades, from 1935 to 1963. She died at the age of 47.
Her short life was characterized by countless love affairs, a near-fatal passion for performing and, in later years, a tragic dependency on drugs.
Her love for performing stretched her own bodily and mental limits. She famously went on stage once despite 3 broken ribs. To get through the performance, she injected herself with morphine.
Piaf’s colorful life was what attracted Pinky to the role.
“She's one of the greatest tragedians — triumphant and tragic in the same way,” says Pinky.
“Everything that could possibly happen to a person happened to her. I've gone to really dark places just to imagine her life.”
Nothing less than an immersion into her dream role’s life satisfied Pinky. The Filipina singer even visited Piaf’s grave in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (burial place of other icons like Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, and Sarah Bernhardt) as a way to connect with her character.
Pinky shares, “When we visited her grave, we saw a fan crying over it. That’s how much she is still loved by people.”
She describes her preparation and training for the role as “relentless.”
Pinky relates, “The role is ‘epic’ in nature. There’s the mental and emotional challenge of [portraying] Piaf who really suffered for her art. She was a continually heartbroken and tortured soul. As an actor, you must convey that internal struggle, turmoil, and chaos.”
Adding to the weight is the vocal challenge of portraying the French singer who had such a unique voice and singing style.
Did she attempt to copy it?
“You can’t,” Pinky admits. “But you can try to get the essence of it. You have to make it your own.”
That said, she still rolled her “r’s” and pronounced lyrics the way Piaf did because not doing so would be a betrayal of what made her songs so definitively hers.
Piaf’s songs are deeply personal, with roots in Piaf’s own experiences and intense emotions. For instance, “Hymne à l'amour” or “Hymn to Love” is a love song she wrote for the love of her life, the French boxer Marcel Cerdan, who was killed in a plane crash on his way to Paris from New York to see her.
Listen to a piano cover of “Hymne à l'amour” here:
It’s this song that Pinky finds the most challenging to sing because of the need for both intensity and subtlety when portraying such a point in Piaf’s life.
In total, 26 of Piaf’s songs will be the sung in the musical, some by Pinky alone, some by the rest of the star-studded cast which includes Ima Castro (who plays Piaf’s best friend), Giselle Töngi Walters, Jamie Wilson, Reuben Uy, Altair Alonso, Nel Gomez, Mako Alonso, Hans Eckstein, and Sandino Martin.
Pinky’s role as Edith Piaf crowns her 30th year in the theater industry. “Piaf” is also a milestone for director Bobby Garcia who celebrates his 20th year, and Atlantis Productions which turns 15 this year. - Rappler.com
(PIAF runs from March 8 to 23 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. For tickets, contact Atlantis Productions at 892-7078.)